The Cost of Setting up an Online Store
If you’re new to the eCommerce world, the idea of setting up a website from scratch can seem intimidating.
Many potential eCommerce store owners have a misconception that you require huge amounts of technical skills and an overly-healthy bank balance to get started—it’s not the case.
Armed with some basic knowledge—some of which can be gleaned from our Complete Beginner’s Guide to eCommerce—the entire process seems far more accessible, manageable, and, best of all, affordable.
That’s the purpose of today’s guide: to educate you on the cost of setting up an online store.
It’s hard to provide an accurate estimate—as with most things in life, there are low and high cost solutions available.
However, by demonstrating the typical price ranges of everything you need, you’ll have a much better idea of how affordable setting up an eCommerce website really is.
For this guide we’ll be omitting some things that are hard to estimate, like the cost of purchasing stock Instead, we’ll focus exclusively on how much it will cost you to set up your online store.
First things first: you need hosting for your store.
A web host provides you with a computer to serve your website, meaning visitors can connect to that computer to view your site. Every file that
makes up your website is stored on the server.
Despite its importance, hosting is surprisingly affordable.
If you want to keep your hosting costs to a minimum, consider signing up to a shared hosting service. DreamHost is a very popular web host, with hosting from just $8.95 per month (or $2.95 if you are going to use WordPress/WooCommerce).
Shared hosting services will be adequate for getting your store up and running, however as your store becomes more popular, you will need a more sophisticated alternative, in the form of managed WordPress hosting. These services ensure your website is kept up-to-date, as well as offering faster servers that speed up how quickly your website loads—never underestimate the impact of this.
WP Engine are the market leading managed WordPress host, offering hosting for one site—and up to 25,000 monthly visitors—for $29 per month. If you’re really serious about speed, you can also add a Content Delivery Network service to your plan for an extra $19.95 per month.
Total cost of hosting: between $2.95 and $29 per month ($35.40 to $348 annually).
Next up, you’ll need a domain name—your own little piece of online real estate. This is what online users will have to type in to access your site, so it has to be unique.
There are a number of domain extensions you can choose from, but if possible go with the .com. If you are targeting a specific country, like the UK, a .co.uk extension is perfectly fine.
Fortunately, buying a domain name is inexpensive. Our favourite domain registrar is NameCheap, and you can pick up a domain for under $10 a year—there are usually promotional codes you can input during checkout to get extra money off.
Total cost of a domain name: under $10 a year.
You will also need an SSL certificate if you want to take card payments over the Internet—an essential part of running an online store.
The SSL certificate encrypts the data on your website, making it safe for visitors to hand over sensitive information like their credit card details. Most online users won’t make payment without seeing the secure SSL symbol on a website, and for this you’ll need a certificate.
You can buy a basic private SSL certificate for between $49 and $99 per year, depending on where you buy them from. RapidSSL are a great source with SSL certificates available from $49, though most hosting providers will offer SSL certificates, too. You may also be able to get your SSL certificate from your host and domain provider, for example, DreamHost provide SSL certificates for each setup.
If you decide to go with a third party SSL certificate—in other words, from a provider that isn’t your host—you may incur an installation charge from your host.
Cost of an SSL certificate: from $49 to $99 per year.
Now you’ve got everything you need, you can start building your website.
In our opinion, WordPress is the ideal CMS for eCommerce stores and beginners alike, due to the community driven nature of the platform: you can download and install themes (for the layout and appearance of your website) and plugins (for specific functions) from a pool of thousands, many of which are free of charge.
The best news? WordPress is completely free.
Cost of WordPress: FREE
eCommerce Plugin: WooCommerce
Our favourite WordPress eCommerce plugin (or eCommerce software in general) is WooCommerce.
This plugin adds the eCommerce functionality to a standard WordPress website, allowing you to create products that visitors can then purchase.
As with WordPress, the core WooCommerce plugin won’t cost you a penny.
Cost of WooCommerce: FREE
Now that you’ve installed WordPress and the WooCommerce plugin, it’s time to start thinking about the appearance of your website.
The framework for how your WordPress website will look to visitors is provided by your theme. There are literally thousands to choose from, and many of them are free of charge.
However, not all WordPress themes are compatible with WooCommerce. This is especially true for the (generally) more limited free themes, so I’d advise you to turn to a premium theme that supports WooCommerce—known as WooCommerce compatible themes.
Have a look around the marketplaces for a WooCommerce compatible theme—you can view a demo of each theme, with the various layout, colour, and customisation options it supports, to get an idea of how it might look on your store.
The themes on ThemeForest will set you back between $28 and $63.
Cost of WooCommerce-compatible theme: Available FREE, but up to $79.
Having already installed the core WooCommerce plugin, your site has the basic eCommerce functionality.
If you want to get more from your eCommerce store, WooCommerce supports some premium extensions which integrate extra functionality to your website.
While there are hundreds to choose from, you will probably only require one or two. Here are some of the best.
You will definitely require a payment gateway to authorise and process a customer’s online payment.
WooCommerce supports a number of payment gateways. You can offer your customers one option, or a number of options depending on your preference.
The basic PayPal or Amazon payment gateway can be installed on your website for free, which takes customers to an external page to make a payment, using their PayPal or Amazon login credentials.
If you want to accept card payments directly on your website—and this makes the checkout process far easier for customers—Stripe is the preferred solution for most eCommerce owners, and will set you back $79.
Cost of a payment gateway: FREE or $79.
Shipping can be tricky for eCommerce sites, mainly because delivery costs vary.
The Table Rate Shipping extension gives you complete control over your shipping charges—you can create costs for specific regions, delivery options available in each region, and also add a premium to orders above a certain weight or number of items. The extension costs $199.
You can also install extensions for specific courier delivery services, including FedEx, UPS, and USPS (as well as country-specific options like the Royal Mail and Australia Post). These extensions allow you to accurately estimate shipping charges based on your customer’s exact location and delivery method. These extensions are priced at $79 each—you should only need one.
Cost of shipping extensions (optional): Between $79 and $199.
Other Valuable Extensions
With over 300 extensions, there are plenty of features to choose from. It would be impossible to cover them all, but here are just a few that can save you time, and add value to your business.
First is the Print Invoices and Packaging Lists extension, available for $49. The extension makes it easier for you to pack each order, then include the slip in the package for delivery. This will save you time, as you no longer have to organise and format your packing lists manually.
If your store is for services or selling some other time based good, you will need the WooCommerce Bookings extension, which is available for $249.
Or if you want to keep your loyal customers coming back, rather than having to constantly find new customers, we recommend our own WooCommerce Subscription extension, ideal for any product or service which requires recurring payments. This will cost $199.
Cost of optional extensions: between $79 and $199.
So there you have it, all the costs involved in setting up your own eCommerce website. Let’s tally them together to see what our total cost is:
- Hosting costs: $35.40 to $348 per year
- Domain costs: $5 to $10 per year
- SSL certificate costs: $49 to $99 per year
- WordPress costs: FREE
- WooCommerce costs: FREE
- WordPress theme costs: FREE, or up to $79
- Payment gateway costs: FREE, or $79
- Shipping extension costs (optional): $79 to $199
- Other extensions costs (optional): Between $79 and $199 each
With this information in mind, it is possible to build a WordPress eCommerce website from just $89.40. Of course, this would be a very basic website, built without a premium theme or any paid extensions.
Looking at the other end of the scale, if you choose the best hosting, SSL certificate and theme, as well as five extensions priced at $79—that’s more than enough!—you’d be looking at a total cost of $931. What other business can you start for under a grand?
However, the main takeaway from this article is that it costs far less to start your own eCommerce store than you probably realise—so what have you got to lose?